Recently, film viewers have been exposed to some particularly awful historical, epic sagas. The New World, a two and a half hour dramatic film about Captain John Smith and the Jamestown settlement, is definitely the exception to the rule. Filmed on location in Virginia and England, Terrence Malick brings you into the view of the English explorers from the indigenous people’s standpoint on the river banks of 17th century Virginia. When Captain Christopher Newport (Christopher Plummer) and his motley crew of sailors and soldiers make their landing, they decide to pitch camp, knowing that the natives are watching them closely. When they first meet the aboriginals, the Native Americans actually sniff the English colonists, as if they were aliens from outer space (which, by 17th century standards, they probably were), as well as touch and feel their clothing and armor.
Mexican lens man, Emmanuel Lubezki, exquisitely executes the cinematography of the film. Malick uses some wonderful underwater photography, just as he did in The Thin Red Line, coupled with some well-choreographed fight scenes on land and in the swamps. Jacqueline West has done a phenomenal job with costume design in this picture, as the English look like tired and dirty explorers and the Native Americans really look like they would in the early 1600’s, not like extras from a 1950’s western.
Malick’s script, which was written nearly twenty-five years ago, carefully sets up an ill-fated romance between warrior-poet John Smith (Colin Farrell) and teenage princess Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher). Newcomer Kilcher definitely has a bright future in cinema as she magically twists and twirls in her native way of communicating before she becomes Anglicized with dresses and shoes, eventually learning the King’s tongue.
The third and final act of the film focuses on the relationship between Pocahontas and John Rolfe (Christian Bale), who became wealthy with his Virginia tobacco trade. The “Princess of Virginia” and Rolfe sail to London, causing quite a stir amongst the nobles and landed gentry. The couple rears their son in comfort at their Gravesend estate, creating history as one of England’s first inter-racial couples. The original music composed by James Horner significantly adds to the more dramatic sequences of the film.
The New World opens on Christmas Day in New York City and Los Angeles and theatres everywhere in January. This is of the best made historical works I have seen in quite some time, but is a little long at two and a half hours.